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Illinois officials to address lack of sexual assault nurses

CheckPoint, a new online system, allows sexual assault victims to track the progress of this rape kits.
A sexual assault evidence kit is logged in the biology ab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. The #MeToo movement is empowering victims of sexual assault to speak up like never before, but what should be a watershed moment for holding assailants accountable has coincided with a troubling trend: Police departments in the U.S. are becoming less and less likely to successfully close rape investigations. | AP file photo

The Illinois Attorney General’s office is working with state lawmakers to draft legislation that would require hospitals to have a specially trained medical provider available to examine a sexual assault victim.

Of the more than 196,000 registered nurses in Illinois, only 32 are certified by the International Association of Forensic Nurses to work with adult sexual assault patients, the Chicago Tribune reported. A dozen of the sexual assault nurse examiners are certified to treat children.

The draft legislation would require hospitals to have a trained medical professional available within 90 minutes of a patient’s arrival. Hospitals would be required to implement the change by 2023.

The Illinois Health and Hospital Association said training enough nurses in such a short time period isn’t possible.

Nurses must be taught how to conduct genital exams, record injuries and ask questions that don’t add to a patient’s trauma. Someone without training can behave in a way that may make a patient feel guilty or doubted.

“We call that the second rape,” said Colleen Zavodny, DuPage County coordinator of advocacy and crisis intervention at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

Elmhurst Hospital nurse Kerry O’Connor spends time talking to a victim to ensure the patient is comfortable. O’Connor explains the different types of evidence that’s collected and explains the patient’s options.

“I want them to feel like they’re in control,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel like someone forcibly did this to me, and now I’m in a medical setting where someone is doing what they think should be done.”

The evidence a trained nurse collects can also bolster a prosecution against an offender, said Cindy Hora, the division chief of Crime Victims Services at the attorney general’s office. Nurses are also trained to testify.

“We do end up with more charges and more convictions,” she said.

Nearly 4,500 patients sought treatment in emergency rooms for alleged, suspected or confirmed sexual assault in 2016, according to the state Department of Public Health.